By Eric Bartelt, West Point Public AffairsDecember 8, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Dec. 7, 2011) -- Last season had a different vibe to it as Army approached its big rivalry game with Navy with a bowl game in its back pocket and a 6-5 record. This year, the Black Knights are 3-8 after a season where a youth movement, costly mistakes in close games and injuries to important players kept them from fulfilling last year's promise.
However, going forward this team has a bright future and senior wide receiver Austin Barr has seen the progress first hand and believes Army will get back on track.
Barr has been a great foot soldier in his four seasons at Army with 20 collegiate receptions and three touchdowns, including one against Air Force last year, while providing impeccable blocking in a run-first option offense.
Barr sat down with the Pointer View to discuss what lies ahead for Army, his family's college football background and playing in the Army-Navy game.
PV: It's been a tough season record-wise at 3-8, but from your perspective through the youth movement and injuries, what positives/progress have you seen that bodes well for the future of Army football?
AB: "Last year, we had a very senior-(laden) team and then this year coming in we had a smaller senior presence, which gave a lot of young guys' opportunities. As coach (Rich Ellerson) says, they were kind of drinking out of the fire hose to start with, but the young guys stepped in and they are starting to show flashes of the players they can be."
"Practice reps are nothing like game reps, so getting into a game like that, even if it's a handful of snaps, speaks volumes for that player's development down the road next season and the seasons to come."
PV: Any player or players in particular you've seen make great progress throughout the season or has come on strong as of late?
AB: "In my position group, I really like (sophomore) Anthony Stephens and the way he works, the way he competes on a daily basis whether he's going to get a lot of snaps or not in a game -- he just gets better every day. I'm really looking to him to do some really big things."
"On the defensive side, I think (freshman defensive back) Hayden Pierce is going to be a great player for years here and that's just to name a few."
PV: Your dad, four uncles and grandfather all played college football at Purdue. How special is it to continue that legacy playing at the Division I level?
AB: "It's definitely a real honor. One of my cousins is a real good athlete, but in a different sport, but it's not something our parents pushed (us) to do. I didn't start playing football until high school, but it's something my uncles and dad have really enjoyed to be able to watch me."
"I got Coach (Rich) Ellerson and Coach (Andy) Guyader, my position coach, but then I have my dad and his four brothers coaching me and calling me after games going, 'What happened there? You can do better than that,' but they really get me going."
"It's been really fun and it's a great connection we all share."
PV: With your family background, do you ever think what it would have been like to play at Purdue?
AB: "I do. As a kid, even before I played organized football, I was like, 'yeah, I'm going to Purdue and play football there, too.' It would have been fun. Growing up I went to Ross-Ade Stadium and different things like that and I don't know of any other family that had five brothers play Division I football, but I'm still playing for the Black and Gold."
PV: Last season was your best year in production, including a big day against Duke and a touchdown against Air Force. During your Army football career, what do you consider your best individual moment?
AB: "I would say the Duke game was pretty special because that was my first touchdown and I had a bunch of family there. My folks were there, so it was a neat thing."
PV: What has been the best team moment in your collegiate career?
AB: "I would say our bowl win (against SMU) last year. I had a ton of family there. It was really neat to finish the year with a winning season, a bowl win and having a bunch of loved ones in the stands. It was a really special thing."
"Certainly, it's the best that's happened so far, but I expect (this) Saturday we have a big opportunity to make the biggest memory we've ever had around here. I've been a part of state (high school) championship teams, I've been a part of our bowl win last year, but a win against Navy would be the biggest football moment of my life and I would expect almost everyone in our locker room (as well)."
PV: As a team, with all the work put into it and to end up with a winning season and a bowl victory, what did it mean to you to get that satisfaction of having a winning season and winning that game?
AB: "It spoke to the hard work we put into it. I felt it was a really exciting thing for Army fans at West Point and around the world, but as players, it was the fulfillment of all the hard work we had done as a team and as individuals. It was basically the fulfillment of that commitment that we embarked on together and it was a really special thing."
PV: Considering the team had a winning record and won a bowl game a year ago to a 3-8 record this year, would a victory against Navy make this season just as successful as last year to you?
AB: "At the beginning of the season, our goal is to have a winning record, but, that being said, at this place I don't know if there is a bigger rivalry in college football or a bigger game for us to play as players. It doesn't say 'Beat Tulane' or 'Beat Temple' on any walls around here. There's the 'Beat Navy' Tunnel. It says it on roofs. It says it on walls. It says it on shirts and everything, so a win against Navy is big."
"Some people say it's just another game, but, as players, we're trying to win that next snap, trying to win that next play and compartmentalize as much as we can, but the overarching thing is we'll do anything to win this game."
PV: What has it meant to you to be involved in the Army-Navy rivalry?
AB: "Just playing in an NFL stadium with it full is so cool. It's electric and really cool to be a part of that and the history of the game. To look back at old pictures and records, it's been going on for more than 100 years, and you think about guys who were in our shoes and doing the same things and playing the rivalry many years ago."
"Here we are just a small speck (in time). You look at the huge continuum of it and it's cool to be a part of all this.
"The game -- I don't know if it's any different than any other game between the white lines. It's still just 11 guys on 11. But, certainly, there are those moments that are just so special; the electric feeling just before kickoff, which is more electric than any other game I've played. Unfortunately, for us, the great moments about the Army-Navy game have only been in our imaginations. I think about it when I go to bed. I think about that idea of singing (our alma mater) second. I think it can be a reality for us, it's right there for us to grab. To be able to compete for the opportunity to sing second is what we're working for just as those guys at Navy are working for and we're excited to line up with the best team winning."
PV: Are you sick of them singing second?
AB: "Absolutely. I think nine straight years from my perspective is enough."
PV: A victory against Navy. Take the biggest win you've had here in your collegiate career, can you even imagine what the locker room would be like after a win against the Midshipmen?
AB: "It would be exciting. Regardless, win or lose, this will be my last football game Saturday. The seniors are going on to different things but, for any young man, whatever level you're playing at, to say this is your last time you will get to put on pads, cleats and a chin strap and get to play this great game is tough, but I'm excited to get one more opportunity to play."
"Obviously, a win against Navy would be the culminating event of my football career."